Monday, September 1, 2008

Castles, Romans and Dylan

I was a little bummed out going into this weekend. The college football season was opening and there is no way to watch it. The Democratic National Convention closed and there was no way to see John Stewart skewer it. I knew I wouldn't be able to enjoy the comforts of home when I signed up for this gig - that's part of what makes it all so much fun - but it was still weird to hear about friends and family gearing up for football and politics and not being able to participate. But by Friday night, I had forgotten my disconnected woes and was well into a great weekend in Marburg.

A few weeks ago one of the other Fulbrighters had the brilliant idea to have a party at the Castle. There are no open-container laws in this country and where there are few things that sound like more fun than a drink, snack and good company in the shadow of a tenth century castle. The evening did not disappoint. We first picked up a few bottles of wine to truck up the hill (somehow any other beverage didn't seem appropriate for the castle) along with traditional German snacks such as crackers, barbeque chips and - most important of all - Haribo Gummi Bears.

The gaggle of Americans then set to work climbing the stairs and steep streets leading to the Schloss ("castle" in German). It knocked the wind out of us, but the view was well worth it: It is important to note that the steeple on the left is not warped by some photographic trick. It's just crooked. It surmounts the oldest Protestant church in Marburg and is clearly visible from my language classroom where I stare at it all day and just want to will it into vertical alignment.

Before you think we were conforming to all of the stereotypes of American students on tour in a foreign land, I would like to point out that there were plenty of other Germans with the exact same idea we had. They were ready to party, too, much to the disgust of the couples that had climbed to the Schloss for some intimacy. After singing a little of "Beauty and the Beast" and discussing Politics and the merits of Tennessee versus Georgia we moved the party back down the hill and back to the Dungeon bar to see if the Muppet booth was open (see previous post for details).

We were disappointed to find the locals had already moved into the spot, so we went into the back and bidded our time. As we waited and ordered drinks, a woman from across the cellar heard our American accents and got up to invite us to join her birthday party. Her guests were all students from Marburg with impeccable English and many apologies for how "bad" it was. It's a ritual.

I quickly found myself in a conversation about the Late Roman Empire with an Archaeology student from Marburg in mixed German and English. I can't tell you how much pride I felt at explaining were I was from, what time period I work on and what kinds of animals I research - all in broken German. These classes are starting to sink in. He is also the only German I have met who supports John McCain. I couldn't quite make out his explanation because the German Punk Music was really getting going.

The group also chatted with a Linguist and American History student named Roman. He taught us the differences between American Sign Language and German Sign Language and his perspective on the American Revolution. When I explained, "Ich komme aus Cincinnati," he lit up and told me he would be spending October in Dayton, Ohio. He started rattling off the zip codes and area codes for Dayton, West Chester and Sycamore. The world is absolutely tiny.

The next morning, after diligently cramming all the German vocabulary into my brain that I wished I had the night before, a couple of the Fulbrighters went to the River Lahn to go paddle boating (Tretboot auf Deutsch). Every day we see people idyllically peddling through the water and it was the perfect day to try it ourselves:
Katie and I getting in our 15 minute cardio for the day (excluding the walk up the hill to the dorms, of course).
The roaring Lahn, home of war canoes and well-fed ducks.

There were four of us in the boat for a half hour. We thought that might not be long enough to really get the full experience, but after fifteen each minutes of solid pedaling we decided it was just the right amount of time and climbed back to shore with brief cardio workout under our belts.

We wandered the city and aggregated Fulbrighters. This town is so small that you start out the day with one or two other people and by the end of the day have turned into half the group. As fifteen people wander the streets together. I had a hankering for a movie and a hankering to test out my German skills. The only movie still available was called "Robert Zimmerman Wundert Sich über die Liebe" or "Robert Zimmerman Wonders About Love." We went in virtually blind except for a brochure that made it seem a little like "Across the Universe" mixed with "The Graduate." It was fantastic. The humor was mixed word-play, slapstick and awkwardness a la Wes Anderson. Here's a link to the trailer. I warn you that it's all in German, but I think you'll get the idea. It was about a young video game designer pursuing a forty-something dry cleaning woman. The movie was stuffed with references to sixties icons. The main character's name is Robert Zimmerman, after all. His introduction (originally in German):

Robert: My name is Robert Zimmerman.
Older woman: Like Bob Dylan?
Bum in the Dry Cleaners: Bob Dylan ist Got. (Bob Dylan is God)
Robert: Naturlich (Naturally)

It felt awesome to understand this exchange. There were huge swathes of the movie where I had to rely more on context clues than the rapid-fire dialogue to catch what was going on. There was one scene entirely in English (without subtitles). Robert is feeling down because he's in a Romantic Comedy and there must be some insurmountable misunderstanding between the central couple that can't be resolved until the last fifteen minutes of the movie and we had 35 minutes to go, so he enters a shady bar where a young person who looks remarkably like Art Garfunkel is also hanging out. After revealing his woes the character opposite reveals he speaks English (without subtitles) and is James Garfunkel, the son of the man who wrote "Mrs. Robinson." He dispenses wisdom taught by his father about life and love and Robert strikes out into the world again. Very surreal. Whatever happened to Art G after he left Paul Simon? Well, apparently his son is making cameos in German comedies. Now you know.

Finally, on Sunday (are you still reading? Wow. I did tell you that it was quite a weekend. Thanks for sticking in there) we went on another cultural field trip. This one was forty kilometers north of Frankfurt at Saalburg, a reconstructed Roman Fort and World Heritage Site. It stood on the northern border of the Roman Empire from 80 to 260 AD. Suffice it to say I was pretty dern excited to bust out my Latin skills after struggling to acquire my German ones.
We took a tour of the grounds, learning about the archaeological history of the place and all the details Wilhelm II got wrong when he ordered the place rebuilt. The museum was filled with artifacts such as shovels and bottles that were garbage 1800 years ago, but now get their own mood lighting. I love old stuff. It's really amazing that devices such as hinges, sieves and planers haven't undergone major design changes in thousands of years. They're just that perfect at what they do:

Ancient wood planers

Other highlights included lessons in archery and spear throwing, Roman Style. If you want to see a couple dozen of the brightest cultural ambassadors in America get really excited, give them sharp objects and a target. Witness:
Target practice was followed by a chance to hike to the edge of the Roman Empire. Formerly a massive earth and wood wall running 500 km along the German forest, the Limes (The Limit) is now a kind of earthen burm with a few wooden posts to remind you what Roman walls looked like, but I still couldn't resist the Four Corners/Continental Divide/Bridge over Niagara Falls Picture with one foot in the Empire (your right) and one in Barbarian lands (your left):
The day was concluded with a meal at a cute restaurant near the fort that specialized in traditional Hessian (The German State Marburg and Frankfurt are in) Fare. I got adventurous again and ordered the "Hand Kase Mit Muzik" or "Hand Cheese and Music." The name is kind of cryptic. One theory is the "Music" is the sound of pleasant conversation being held over the dish. Another is that the clinking vinegar bottles that are served with the cheese cause the music. The third (and most popular) is the "music" is your body's natural reaction to eating a lot of cheese and onions. The third makes the most sense. The meal itself was two palm-sized mounds of gelatinous cheese that was something like a light Swiss. The cheese is topped with diced onions and caraway. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't a meal. I had to eat a bit of bread and pop a few TicTacs to feel satiated. Maybe I'll go for the Schnitzel next time...

I hope you had a wonderful weekend filled with college football and political commentary.


Deutsch Heuteworten: Wohnmobil (fem.) - RV or pop-up trailer

Ich möchte meine Wohnmobil fahren und besuche meine Verwandten in California. Mist teuer Benzine! Mist Atlantischer Ozean!

I wish to drive my RV and visit my extended family in California. Damn expensive gas! Damn Atlantic Ocean!


Anonymous said...

Ha ha! I'm jealous! While you were touring ancient ruins, partying in castles, and paddling beautiful rivers I was in the Big House watching Michigan lose to Utah! Classes start tomorrow so expect a giant e-mail about those :)

Matt said...

I'm sorry to hear about the Ute's victory. It's because they have that awesome Samoan-Mormon offensive line. You just can't bust through that. Hopefully the next few games will have Michig@n climbing back into the saddle. I want to good game in late November!

Good luck with classes. Let me know if you have any questions über sprecken Deutsch...

Mama B said...

Art Garfunkel now tours with Pops orchestras, like Cincinnati's last year at Riverbend. And he doesn't mention Paul Simon. Just so you know.